ALP in danger

What we thought we knew has been confirmed. The ALP is controlled by factions. The faction with the most power seems to be the NSW right. They turned over the leader as soon as his popularity started to dip. So far so good.

The PM at “Australia’s White House”

But factions are not all upside. If the ALP loses, a narrative will be constructed in which kicking out Kevin Rudd is the reason for the loss. The NSW right will be cast as villain of the piece. When the heart of your organisation is what’s rotten, you can’t just cut it off.

In the push and shove that will follow a loss, the ALP will tear itself apart. It’s a low probability, high-consequence event for Australian politics.

If it loses, we will hear a lot more about what happened this July. People will speak to the media. Confidences will be broken, backs will be stabbed. Mr Rudd will be interviewed incessantly. He might even write a book and call it ‘Boned‘.

History will be kind following an ALP loss

It will not be like the Liberals picking Tony Abbott and losing. It will not be like the ALP sticking fatalistically with Kim Beazley and losing. It will not be like boldly picking Latham and losing. It will be a much bigger deal. A Tony Abbott victory may well incapacitate Labor for quite a long time. Not only will they have burned through two good leaders in one term, but the fighting will burn out a whole lot of future leaders.

The big-eared underdog

We will learn a lot more about the circumstance under which Faulkner and Tanner decided to step down. We will hear a lot of bad things about Mark Arbib. People will quit. People will have their dirty laundry aired. Leaders will be elected and step down. If Swan becomes leader it won’t be for long. They might go back to Rudd for a while. Or Malcolm Turnbull might start a new party and get half the ALP to join.

Turnbull rocking out in front of some Australian flags

If the Liberal Party thinks it has a chance it should mortgage the farm to put more ads on, distribute more pamphlets, pay candidates bonuses, do whatever it takes, because a victory here will really incapacitate their opponent.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

6 thoughts on “ALP in danger”

  1. Hello there. TFC’s cousin-in-law here.

    I joined the ALP to find out how politics worked. I’ll join any group to find out about a lot of things, from religion to sport. Your analysis is a safe bet, based on what happens in either major party when they lose power. Faction is not a dirty word on its own. When a faction or multiple factions make agreements beyond the reach of democracy, then we are likely to become victims of secrecy, nepotism and favoritism. This is when it is likely that someone other than the best person for a job in the pointy end of the public service gets the job. If the agreements don’t work (i.e. someone doesn’t win an election) many butts get kicked, privately and publicly.

    On the other hand, democracy only works when the majority agree with me :)

    With respect to the night of the long knives you refer to, I am constantly surprised that a government can deliver anything with the tensions between so many with “will to power” in power. The Unabomber liked that term – sorry, was that Nietzsche?


  2. I don’t agree necessarily with your doomsaying, because of what would have happened if Labor lose: the Coalition win. The Liberal Party, in particular, were a laughable rabble since about this time last election, when Howard and Costello were fighting over the leadership. History shows that Howard lost the election, his seat and therefore the leadership. Brendan Nelson thrashed about in the quagmire for a year or so, was (just) beaten by Malcolm Turnbull, who self destructed in an argument about a ute, Hockey did a passable impression of Costello, then enter Abbott, the previously unelectable goon from the past, defeated government.

    Hardly a convincing picture of a party with it’s shit together, but if they get in, clearly the electorate doesn’t care about internal party machinations (or even policy substance) – and therefore even an imploding ALP would be able to take heart next time around.


  3. I agree with clown2, and I remember people saying much the same thing about three years ago, only about the Liberal Party—they’re still here I think.

    I would also add that the Rudd/Gillard Labor Party doesn’t know how to do Government, but it seems to be doing an excellent job of being in Opposition. If the Government loses, it will be purely because it gave most of the benefits of incumbancy up (e.g. Gillard acting as if she’s an illigitimate usurper), but still lacks the benefits opposition (e.g. people on the left won’t rally behind Labor—they’ll look for the Greens).


  4. I reckon that’s a pretty fair analysis.

    Two constants:

    1) The two majors both have factions that control the destiny of the party, they always have, they always will. But it’s a mistake to think factionalism and infighting is the sole province of the ALP.

    2) After every election loss, whether Coalition or ALP, the parties will indulge in a ‘spill and fill’, which is generally pretty ugly.

    The variable:
    The other factor to take into account is that virtually every Government gets a second term. However, Rudd being diposed the way he was is without precedent and I wonder whether this precedent setting turbulance will spill over into the electorate’s decision making. If it does, hello Robespierre.

    Little joke:
    Newbie polititcian takes his seat in the house of reps, next to wily, old veteran politican and fellow party member. Looking across at his opposition numbers, the Newbie turns to the veteran and says, “There they are. The enemy”.

    The veteran replies “No son, they’re the Opposition. The enemy is sitting behind you”.


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